Vale readies iron ore transshipment hub in Philippines

Tue Jan 31, 2012 2:56am EST

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* Ore Fabrica arrives in Philippines' Subic Bay port

* Ship is the biggest dry bulk floating storage vessel

* Comes ahead of two Valemaxes due in February

By Manolo Serapio Jr and Randy Fabi

SINGAPORE, Jan 31 (Reuters) - The world's largest dry bulk floating storage vessel, owned by Vale, has arrived in the Philippines as the Brazilian miner readies a base in the country to onship iron ore to top market China, port and shipping sources said on Tuesday.

Ore Fabrica, to be stationed in Subic Bay Freeport, is part of Vale's plan to make the Philippines a transshipment hub to overcome Chinese opposition to its new 400,000-tonne iron ore carriers, known as "Valemaxes".

The 280,000-deadweight-tonne Ore Fabrica will serve as a platform to transfer iron ore from the Valemaxes to smaller vessels for transport to Asian markets like China, Japan and South Korea.

"It was anchored yesterday. The vessel, which has a crane on it, will be used by Vale to transship iron ore from Valemaxes to two or three other ships," said a maritime source involved in the management of the vessel.

Previously a crude oil tanker, Ore Fabrica was converted by a Chinese shipyard to a floating storage vessel to be based in Subic Bay Freeport, located in the Philippines' main Luzon island, according to shipping data.

China, the world's largest iron ore importer, has yet to fully open its seaports to the giant Valemaxes after domestic ship owners strongly protested the arrival of the first and only vessel of the type into the country in late December.

Officials at Vale in Singapore were not immediately available for comment. A spokeswoman for Subic Bay Freeport said she was still checking with the company's seaport department.

Two Valemaxes are headed for Subic Bay port next month.

The 400,000-deadweight-tonne Vale Brasil is expected to arrive in Subic Bay Freeport on Feb. 12, shipping data showed. It wll be followed by the similar-sized Vale China on Feb. 22.

Apart from the Philippines, Vale is also setting up a transshipment centre in Malaysia.

The Brazilian miner in October broke ground for a $1.3 billion iron ore distribution centre in Malaysia's northern Perak state, which could be ready to handle the giant ships by 2014.

Vale is counting on a fleet of 35 Valemaxes to slash shipping costs to China to help it better compete with Australian rivals BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto .

The 388,000-tonne Berge Everest was the first and only Valemax allowed into China, docking at Dalian Port on Dec. 28 to unload iron ore that has yet to be sold.

The China Shipowners Association has helped keep further ships from arriving at its domestic ports. The group fears the fleet will give Vale a monopoly on both the shipping and iron ore markets at China's expense. (Reporting by Manolo Serapio Jr. and Randy Fabi, editing by Richard Pullin)

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